MERS fears keep Chinese visitors from Korea
As Korea is still grappling with containing MERS, Chinese visitor arrivals to Incheon Airport have dwindled from 20,000 to 400 per day.
The Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) claimed another Korean victim on June 12, bringing the number of deceased to 11, and four more cases were confirmed in one day, bringing the total of confirmed cases to 126.
As Korea is still grappling with containing MERS, Chinese visitor arrivals to Incheon Airport have dwindled from 20,000 to 400 per day, dealing a major blow to Korea’s tourism industry since the MERS fear spread, an airport spokesperson said.
In just 10 days, one Korean carrier has received flight cancelations by over 18,000 Chinese passengers, 11,000 South East Asian and 7,600 Japanese.
Chinese tourists cancel Korean trips en masse
Although there has yet to be any confirmed MERS cases in Jeju Island, the destination’s local economy has also been directly hit.
A total of 67,000 plus visitors, comprising 35,000 Korean visitors and 32,000 foreign visitors, have canceled travel arrangements to the island as of June 9, according to Jeju Island’s official statistics.
The Jeju Tourism Association said many Chinese tourists canceled trips, and direct flights from Hangzhou, Ningbo, Wenzhou and Nanjing Jeju Island were suspended after news of Korea’s MERS situation was widely reported abroad. As the tourism industry makes up 73% of the local economy, the loss of tourists could trigger an economic meltdown.
Economic impact worse than 2014 ferry disaster
As foreign visitors shun Korea, Koreans themselves terrified of the MERS outbreak also avoid going out on the town. A Lotte Supermarket senior executive has revealed that its national sales volume has dropped 10% in the first 10 days of June.
Department stores are even worse off than supermarkets, and a golf clothing supplier said sales plunged 37%, indicating graver impact than the aftermath of the Sewol ferry disaster last year.
In a June 11 report by the Korean Economic Research Institute, total loss is estimated to cap at 4 trillion won if MERS is under control by the end of June. However, if MERS continues to spread till the end of August, the loss will balloon to 20 trillion won, Korea’s GDP will drop 1.3%, more than 20,000 people will be quarantined, and sales for service, restaurants and entertainment will be down by 60%.
Korean Kimchee: miracle MERS prevention?
Talk on how to boost immunity to stave off MERS has become a hot topic among Koreans, as latest cases show that the elderly and those in poor health are more susceptible to MERS. Korean social networks are buzzing with a flood of home remedies to prevent susceptibility to MERS, and Korea’s national favourite Kimchee, a fiery chili pepper sauerkraut, has widely been touted as a “miracle” MERS prevention remedy.
Many Koreans believe the fermented Kimchee is rich with anti-bacterial qualities and its nationwide following credited Kimchee for keeping SARS at bay during the last SARS outbreak. However, Korean experts say there is no evidence to confirm this claim of Kimchee consumption as an effective prevention for MERS.(Translation by David)